How much influence do our mothers have over us? According to Hillary Clinton her mother was her mentor.

In a major speech this week for the US Presidential primary campaign this multi-millionaire candidate said she wanted to represent the poorest of the poor – to be their champion – partly because her mother, Dorothy Rodham, was so poor.

Hillary Clinton also showed she had a good delivery of the punch line. Confronting the age issue she said: “I may not be the youngest candidate in this election, but I hope to be the youngest female President of the United States of America.”

What kind of person was Dorothy Rodham and what kind of power did she have over the delivery of the punch line? Well, I certainly didn’t know her. I don’t know Hillary, but I was a classmate of Bill Clinton at university. We were both involved in student politics at Georgetown University in DC and we both worked as interns at the United States Senate.

Every five years universities in America host reunions for their alumni, which means this is basically a fundraising exercise. Shortly after Bill was first elected President the class reunion was scheduled for May, 1993 and he asked if we would like to have the dinner at his house.

Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue was about 15 minutes away from the university. He erected a huge tent in his back garden and on a balmy spring evening in Washington we danced on the White House lawn, a scene straight out of the song Life is a Minestrone by10CC.

We had a Champaign reception in the Rose Garden. The meal wasn’t memorable, but you can’t have everything.

During the entertainment interval I got up to stretch my legs. Bill and Hillary were holding court at the front of the tent so I walked to the back to get away from the crowd and found a little lady leaning against the canvas. Everyone was ignoring her.

She must have been about 5ft tall, dressed in black, well mostly in black with a white blouse, a kind of waiter’s uniform with sensible, flat, black shoes.

In the middle of this swirling celebration of colour, energy, dance and shouting, here was the still presence of someone keeping a watchful eye.

Obviously she wasn’t a bouncer, but she could have been part of a security or surveillance team, or she could have been a maid with her predominately black outfit. She also looked like she could have been a European peasant who had chanced her luck and gate-crashed the event.

I decided to stop and have a chat. I stretched out my hand to indicate the clouds of networking classmates in front of us dancing around Bill and Hillary like moths to a flame and asked her “What do you make of this?”

She didn’t hesitate. “I’ve seen it all before. But it does still continually surprise me!”

This wasn’t the response I expected from a White House employee – I gave her the benefit of the doubt about the gate-crashing.

“Have you been to many of these events? You look kind of laid back. Do you have any particular duties?”

“Well, I’m supposed to enjoy myself, but I’m afraid it’s not that easy.”

“Enjoy yourself? You mean you don’t work here?”


“But you’re dressed just like a maid.”

“My husband died last month and after something like that happens, this is what we do,” she said pointing to her clothes. “So you don’t work here?”

“No, I live here. After my husband died my daughter asked if I would like to move in with her, especially during the period of mourning.”

“And your daughter is..?”